BWW Review: Audiences Completely Give Their Hearts to MKE Rep's Resplendent New A CHRISTMAS CAROL
What could be a better holiday gift to Milwaukee than a World Premiere adaptation of Dickens' beloved A Christmas Carol? On Friday night, Artistic Director Mark Clements opened his resplendent adaptation for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in the gorgeous Pabst Theater. In this innovative adaptation by Clements in collaboration with a stunning artistic team, the production renewed holiday magic in the company's 41st year for the city that Clements and The Rep call home.
Long time Christmas Carol enthusiasts, while seeing Dickens in this new perspective, will completely give their hearts over to the splendid production replete with a ring and revolve set, a design two years in the making. To set the stage, Dickens himself (in disguise as Milwaukee actor Jonathan Wainwright), reads from his classic novella to begin Ebenezer Scrooge's journey into Victorian London with those famous words--"Marley was as dead as doornail. Marley was dead and unless this is understood nothing wonderful can come of it."
Wonderful appears when the cast strolls through Scenic Designer Todd Edward Ivins London set that revolves to highlight Scrooge's journeys--London's windows backlit in color by designer Jeff Nellis offset the dreariness of the city this creative team wished to evoke. A theme that allows Dickens' fabulous ghosts to shine their unique lights into Scrooge's isolated, lonely and miserly life.
Milwaukee actor Jonathan Wainwright transforms Scrooge into a shriveling crony--where often his physical shivers or trembling jaw can be palpably felt and seen by the audience. He masterfully embodies a Scrooge who can interact with the audience, adding a touch of sarcastic humor while asking them if the supernatural visions he sees are real. A beguiling or bewitched Scrooge that transforms over the evening instead of more instantaneously at the foot of Christmas Future before Christmas morning.
In illuminating the Christmas ghosts in costumes designed by Alexander B. Tecoma, Deborah Staples arrives with a flame headdress for the Ghost of Christmas Past. Chike Johnson dons a magnificent evergreen colored, fur trimmed robe accompanied by a lighted holly halo. Johnson's laugh will send chills down your spine, and embodies the present Christmas spirit. Even the Ghost of Christmas Future sees ahead with glowing eyes and spiny pointed fingers in the form of actor Darrington Clark. In this production, each Christmas Ghost enters Scrooge's life through a grand entrance, smoke and light, then disappears through equal magic.
Clements drew on traditional, seasonal carols and an original score under Musical Director Dan Kazemi to accompany the story, some carols shortened from previous productions. In the lobby and lounge before the performance, cast members sing to delight the incoming audience. Clements struck a poignant note in choosing several carols. When Scrooge travels in the present to his nephew Fred's house, they play a game mocking Scrooge. Afterwards, Fred asks and sings, "As poor as I am, what can I give him..." Fred answered as the carol does, " I can give him my heart."
In a effort to reward Dickens' novella, Clements added a few scenes or condensed several on Scrooge's transformative journey. Reese Madigan and Rana Roman capture the Cratchits, affected by Scrooge's every whim while Edward Owczarski sings a solo as the delightful Tiny Tim. A familiar host of Milwaukee actors join Wainwright's Scrooge, including Jonathan Gillard Daly, Angela Iannone and Jonathan Smoots, while Michael Doherty (a pitch perfect Fred), Jessie Hooker, Luigi Sottile, Christie Coran debut or return to Milwaukee once again. In all more than 40 cast members, adults and young performers, envision Dickens' novella, a vast undertaking for this momentous production.
When Scrooge dons a red silk scarf on Christmas morning to greet the day and show his changed spirit (a favorite personal moment from past Carols), the audience experiences a winter wonderland falling from the sparkling chandeliers in the Pabst Theater. Children opened their months in awe and held out the palms to touch the snowflakes while the cast carols to an original new song.
Sitting alongside a family who has attended the holiday production for more than five years, one of the 17 year old young men enthusiastically approved the interactive version saying how exciting this was. This especially family friendly production entertains all ages, and one six year old little girl in the lobby mentioned, "I'm not afraid of the ghosts because I know they're not real."--At this Christmas Carol, everyone can see the world, even a dark and dreary London world through the eyes of a child, the eyes of Tiny Tim and those children sitting in the audience, hearts filled with wonder.
In one concluding scene, the Ghost of Christmas Future says, "We make this worse by doing nothing" when Want and Ignorance appear from behind the ghost's cloak. Scrooge understands the message with a changed perspective, and his heart glows throughout London radiating like the Ghosts who visited him. Audiences' spirits will glow as well, too, giving their hearts to a wondrous Christmas Carol that gleams from within dark London street corners while filled with goodwill. Transformation can be enlightening and present timeless new perspectives and journeys Clements' world premiere adaptation offers another tradition for Milwaukee audiences to embrace in this Carol overflowing with joyous laughter and light to be celebrated the entire year.
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Mark Clements new adaptation of A Christmas Carol in the Pabst Theater at the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through December 24. After the production, cast members present their hats as the audience walks out for donations to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, who offer support to youth across the city. For information on A Christmas Carol, or the production in the Quadracci Powerhouse,, Foreigner, or to purchase tickets, please call: 414.224.9400 or visit www.milwaukeerep.com.